America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

In a press release on their news blog:

Many of our members are uncomfortable with the recent evolution of the partnership between the UTMB and the carmaker, Dacia, because of what we feel is a conflict with our values, our stated Environmental Ethical Boundaries, and our ideal vision of trail running.

This comment and effort seems to be a bit more of a level-headed approach than the ‘ petition‘ floating around pre-UTMB spearheaded by the ‘The Green Runners’ while the essence of the criticism is largely the same:

  • Adding a flagship sponsor, which is so in your face that it even gets top billing and alters the UTMB event name, that is a carbon-spewing car company doesn’t square with the environmental priorities of the larger trail running community.
  • This partnership seems to contradict UTMB’s own environmental efforts.

I do like the approach the Pro Trail Runners Association is taking here. Doing it this way gives them a good platform to voice their concerns and discomforts. This can open a dialogue.

How UTMB is positioning the Dacia partnership is nothing new and certainly not uncommon in pro sports. Beloved local sports stadiums have their names changed all the time to reflect some corporate sponsors. Teams of the Tour de France have more brands associated to their team name and on their jersey than one can count. Most of the big marathons have a sponsor attached as top billing to their name. But just because it’s common doesn’t make it good. Naming ‘UTMB’ the ‘Dacia UTMB’ sounds kind of gross, no matter what brand is or would be attached. Well, check that if it would be called the ‘Electric Cable Car UTMB’ it would be damn rad, but I digress. Pro athletes who are hoping the sports progresses and offers more support for athletes to make a full-time living should welcome this addition as more money flowing into the sport means more for everyone. And currently the outdoor brands are the only sponsors and thus get to dictate their term. And in turn are raking in the millions without being questioned. Getting sponsor support from ‘outside the industry’ helps with leveling the playing field and offers better sponsorship terms for events.

Here are my questions for UTMB:

  • Can UTMB grow and be a financially sustainable business without selling out their unique brand they cultivated?
  • Can UTMB ‘be a leader’ and select ‘responsible partners’, and if so, who determines what a responsible partner is?

Some questions for the fast athletes on the frontlines calling themselves pros:

  • The expectations on UTMB, especially from elite runners, are seemingly ever-growing (more elite support and special treatment, bigger prize money, direct qualification, invitation, and free entries). Where’s the money coming from if not from corporate sponsorships like in any other sport you’re referring to when requesting special treatment?

The amateur, every-person trail runner who feels that our sport should keep it’s ‘grassroots feel’.

  • Should we keep participating in these highly produced events? Or should we leave those to the pros and start signing up for the countless other races that are still managed in this low key environment we envision when we think of trail running? We can’t really have livestreams of our races and ‘Conquest of Paradise’ at the starting line and demand that these events ‘keep their grassroots feel’.